Hurricane Irma: ATF Urges Floridians to Lock Up Guns Before Evacuating

A 2015 law could allow residents to carry concealed without a permit if a state of emergency is declared and mandatory evacuations are ordered.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott discussing storm impact and response on September 1.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott discussing storm impact and response on September 1. photo from guns.comweb photo

A Florida law passed in 2015 may temporarily allow state residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit as Hurricane Irma has the entire region on high alert.

The law created an exception to Florida's prohibition against concealed carry without a permit by allowing adults not otherwise prohibited from possessing a firearm to temporarily do so while evacuating, under certain conditions, according to this story from guns.com.

Do to so, the legal owner of a firearm must be "in the act of evacuating" under a mandatory evacuation order during an official state of emergency, according to Marion Hammer, executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former National Rifle Association, who talked to guns.com about the matter.

"So far, even though the Governor has declared a state of emergency in all 67 counties, I am unaware of any mandatory evacuation order," he said in the story.

If such an order is given, the law says legal gun owners can carry during a 48-hour window. However, the governor can issues an extension if necessary.

"To be clear, if you're ordered to leave your home and you're packing up your car with your family, pets and valuables, you can and should bring a firearm," said Sarasota Herald-Tribune gun writer Lee Williams in his column this week.

At the time of this posting, the National Hurricane Center is describing Irma, a Category 5 storm, as the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record, with winds reaching an astonishing 185 mph.

Gov. Rick Scott has asked President Donald Trump to issue a state of emergency for Florida and has directed all 7,000 of the state’s National Guard members to report by Friday.

“With Hurricane Irma now a category 5 storm, we must do all we can to prepare our families and communities for any potential impact from this major weather event,” Scott said in a statement. “We do not know the exact path of this storm, but weather can change in an instant and while we hope for the best, we must prepare for the worst.”

But what if you have guns that you’re not planning to carry, what should you do?

This story from wftv.com says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) has encouraged gun owners in Florida who are evacuating to secure their firearms before they leave for fear of post-storm looting.

"In the storms, we'll go back to (Hurricane) Harvey, where again, people are taking advantage of the fact that there's no one in the home," ATF Special Agent Daryl McCrary said in the story. "They're going out, sometimes in the midst of the storm, or very soon after the storm, and they're looting."

And firearms, predictably, become a big target for looters in such situations—and consequently, gun stores are also major targets.

"If you have firearms that are not secure in your residence, those firearms are going to be taken, and there's a high probability those firearms are going to be used in crimes, in violent crimes, and we're trying to prevent that," McCrary said.

While mandatory evacuation orders haven't come yet, they are certainly expected in the near future. McCrary encouraged gun owners to make plans for securing their firearms now, in case they have to leave their home without much notice.

“We’re going to have people under mandatory evacuation that may have to leave their homes quickly,” he said. “We’re asking, and highly suggesting, that they have a firearms record, that is, that they can use their mobile phones to take a picture of that firearm, so that they would be able to identify it.” Those who are victims of firearms theft can contact the ATF at 202-648-7200 or 888-930-9275.

Florida residents who want to transport their NFA restricted items with them during an evacuation must submit ATF Form 5320.20 to nfafax@atf.gov.

Those evacuating by public transportation (airlines, railroads, buses) must notify the carrier of the firearm and have it stowed unloaded in checked baggage, the story says.